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April 13 2011

12:33

Which blog platform should I use? A blog audit

When people start out blogging they often ask what blogging platform they should use – WordPress or Blogger? Tumblr or Posterous? It’s impossible to give an answer, because the first questions should be: who is going to use it, how, and what and who for?

To illustrate how the answers to those questions can help in choosing the best platform, I decided to go through the 35 or so blogs I have created, and why I chose the platforms that they use. As more and more publishing platforms have launched, and new features added, some blogs have changed platforms, while new ones have made different choices to older ones.

Bookmark blogs (Klogging) – Blogger and WordPress to Delicious and Tumblr

When I first began blogging it was essentially what’s called ‘klogging’ (knowledge blogging) – a way to keep a record of useful information. I started doing this with three blogs on Blogger, each of which was for a different class I taught: O-Journalism recorded reports in the field for online journalism students, Interactive Promotion and PR was created to inform students on a module of the same name (later exported to WordPress) and students on the Web and New Media module could follow useful material on that blog.

The blogs developed with the teaching, from being a place where I published supporting material, to a group blog where students themselves could publish their work in progress.

As a result, Web and New Media was moved to WordPress where it became a group blog maintained by students (now taught by someone else). The blog I created for the MA in Television and Interactive Content was first written by myself, then quickly handed over to that year’s students to maintain. When I started requiring students to publish their own blogs the original blogs were retired.

One-click klogging

By this time my ‘klogging’ had moved to Delicious. Webpages mentioned in a specific class were given a class-specific tag such as MMJ02 or CityOJ09. And students who wanted to dig further into a particular subject could use subject-specific tags such as ‘onlinevideo‘ or ‘datajournalism‘.

For the MA in Television and Interactive Content, then, I simply invented a new tag – ‘TVI’ – and set up a blog using Tumblr to pull anything I bookmarked on Delicious with that tag. (This was done in five minutes by clicking on ‘Customise‘ on the main Tumblr page, then clicking on Services and scrolling down to ‘Automatically import my…‘ and selecting RSS feed as Links. Then in the Feed URL box paste the RSS feed at the bottom of delicious.com/paulb/tvi).

(You can do something similar with WordPress – which I did here for all my bookmarks – but it requires more technical knowhow).

For klogging quotes for research purposes I also use Tumblr for Paul’s Literature Review. I’ve not used this as regularly or effectively as I could or should, but if I was embarking on a particularly large piece of research it would be particularly useful in keeping track of key passages in what I’m reading. Used in conjunction with a Kindle, it could be particularly powerful.

Back to the TVI bookmarks: another five minutes on Feedburner allowed me to set up a daily email newsletter of those bookmarks that students could subscribe to as well, and a further five minutes on Twitterfeed sent those bookmarks to a dedicated Twitter feed too (I could also have simply used Tumblr’s option to publish to a Twitter feed). ‘Blogging’ had moved beyond the blog.

Resource blogs – Tumblr and Posterous

For my Online Journalism module at City University London I use Tumblr to publish a curated, multimedia blog in addition to the Delicious bookmarks: Online Journalism Classes collects a limited number of videos, infographics, quotes and other resources for students. Tumblr was used because I knew most content would be instructional videos and I wanted a separate place to collect these.

The more general Paul Bradshaw’s Tumblelog (http://paulbradshaw.tumblr.com/) is where I maintain a collection of images, video, quotes and infographics that I look to whenever I need to liven up a presentation.

For resources based on notes or documents, however, Posterous is a better choice.

Python Notes and Notes on Spreadsheet Formulae and CAR, for example, both use Posterous as a simple way for me to blog my own notes on both (Python is a programming language) via a quick email (often drafted while on the move without internet access).

Posterous was chosen because it is very easy to publish and tag content, and I wanted to be able to access my notes based on tag (e.g. VLOOKUP) when I needed to remember how I’d used a particular formula or function.

Similarly, Edgbaston Election Campaign Exprenses and Hall Green Election Campaign Exprenses use Posterous as a quick way to publish and tag PDFs of election expense receipts from both constituencies (how this was done is explained here), allowing others to find expense details based on candidate, constituency, party or other details, and providing a space to post comments on findings or things to follow up.

Niche blogs – WordPress and Posterous

Although Online Journalism Blog began as ‘klogging’ it soon became something more, adding analysis, research, and contributions from other authors, and the number of users increased considerably. Blogger is not the most professional-looking of platforms, however (unless you’re prepared to do a lot of customisation), so I moved it to WordPress.com. And when I needed to install plugins for extra functionality I moved it again to a self-hosted WordPress site.

Finally, when the site was the victim of repeated hacking attempts I moved it to a WordPress MU (multi user) site hosted by Philip John’s Journal Local service, which provided technical support and a specialised suite of plugins.

If you want a powerful and professional-looking blogging platform it’s hard to beat WordPress.com, and if you want real control over how it works – such as installing plugins or customising themes – then a self-hosted WordPress site is, for me, your best option. I’d also recommend Journal Local if you want that combination of functionality and support.

If, however, you want to launch a niche blog quickly and functionality is not an issue then Posterous is an even better option, especially if there will be multiple contributors without technical skills. Council Coverage in Newspapers, for example, used Posterous to allow a group of people to publish the results of an investigation on my crowdsourced investigative journalism platform Help Me InvestigateThe Hospital Parking Charges Blog did the same for another investigation, but as it was only me publishing, I used WordPress.

Group blogs – Posterous and Tumblr

Posterous suits groups particularly well because members only need to send their post to a specific email address that you give them (such as post@yourblog.posterous.com) to be published on the blog.

It also handles multimedia and documents particularly well – when I was helping Podnosh‘s Nick Booth train a group of people with Flip cameras we used Posterous as an easy way for members of a group to instantly publish the video interviews they were doing by simply sending it to the relevant email address (Posterous will also cross-publish to YouTube and Twitter, simplifying those processes).

A few months ago Posterous launched a special ‘Groups’ service that publishes content in a slightly different way to make it easier for members to collaborate. I used this for another Help Me Investigate investigation - Recording Council Meetings – where each part of the investigation is a post/thread that users can contribute to.

Again, Posterous provides an easy way to do this – all people need to know is the email address to send their contribution to, or the web address where they can add comments to other posts.

If your contributors are more blog-literate and want to retain more control over their content, another option for group blogs is Tumblr. Brumblr, for example, is one group blog I belong to for Birmingham bloggers, set up by Jon Bounds. ‘We Love Michael Grimes‘ is another, set up by Pete Ashton, that uses Tumblr for people to post images of Birmingham’s nicest blogger.

Blogs for events – Tumblr, Posterous, CoverItLive

When I organised a Citizen Journalism conference in 2007, I used a WordPress blog to build up to it, write about related stories, and then link to reports on the event itself. Likewise, when later that year the NUJ asked me to manage a team of student members as they blogged that year’s ADM, I used WordPress for a group blog.

As the attendees of further events began to produce their own coverage, the platforms I chose evolved. For JEEcamp.com (no longer online), I used a self-hosted WordPress blog with an aggregation plugin that pulled in anything tagged ‘JEEcamp’ on blogs or Twitter. CoverItLive was also used to liveblog – and was then adopted successfully by attendees when they returned to their own news operations around the country (and also, interestingly, by Downing Street after they saw the tool being used for the event).

For the final JEEcamp I used Tumblr as an aggregator, importing the RSS feed from blog search engine Icerocket for any mention of ‘JEEcamp’.

In future I may experiment with the Posterous iPhone app’s new Events feature, which aggregates posts in the same location as you.

Aggregators – Tumblr

Sometimes you just want a blog to keep a record of instances of a particular trend or theme. For example, I got so sick of people asking “Is blogging journalism?” that I set up Is Ice Cream Strawberry?, a Tumblr blog that aggregates any articles that mention the phrases “Is blogging journalism”, “Are bloggers journalists” and “Is Twitter journalism” on Google News.

This was set up in the same way as detailed above, with the Feed URL box completed using the RSS feed from the relevant search on Google News or Google Blog Search (repeat for each feed).

Likewise, Online Journalism Jobs aggregates – you’ve got it – jobs in online journalism or that use online journalism skills. It pulls from the RSS feed for anything I bookmark on Delicious with the tag ‘ojjobs’ – but it can also be done manually with the Tumblr bookmark or email address, which is useful when you want to archive an entire job description that is longer than Delicious’s character limit.

Easy hyperlocal blogging – WordPress, Posterous and Tumblr

For a devoted individual hyperlocal blog WordPress seems the best option due to its power, flexibility and professionalism. For a hyperlocal blog where you’re inviting contributions from community members via email, Posterous may be better.

But if you want to publish a hyperlocal blog and have never had the time to do it justice, Tumblr provides a good way to make a start without committing yourself to regular, wordy updates. Boldmere High Street is my own token gesture – essentially a photoblog that I update from my mobile phone when I see something of interest – and take a photo – as I walk down the high street.

Personal blogs

As personal blogs tend to contain off-the-cuff observations, copies of correspondence or media, Posterous suits it well. Paul Bradshaw O/T (Off Topic) is mine: a place to publish things that don’t fit on any of the other blogs I publish. I use Posterous as it tends to be email-based, sometimes just keeping web-based copies of emails I’ve sent elsewhere.

It’s difficult to prescribe a platform for personal blogs as they are so… personal. If you talk best about your life through snatches of images and quotes, Tumblr will work well. I have a family Tumblr, for example, that pulls images and video from a family Flickr account, tweets from a family Twitter feed, video from a family YouTube account, and also allows me to publish snatches of audio or quotes.

You could use this to, for instance, create an approved-members-only Facebook page for the family so other family members can ‘follow’ their grandchildren, and publish updates from the Tumblr blog via RSS Graffiti. Facebook is, ultimately, the most popular personal blogging platform.

If it is hard to separate your personal life from your professional life, or your personal hobby involves playing with technology, WordPress may be a better choice.

And Blogger may be an easy way to bring together material from Google properties such as Picasa and Orkut.

Company blogs

Likewise, although Help Me Investigate’s blog started as two separate blogs on WordPress (one for company updates, the other for investigation tips), it now uses Posterous for both as it’s an easier way for multiple people to contribute.

This is because ease of publishing is more important than power – but for many companies WordPress is going to be the most professional and flexible option.

For some, Tumblr will best communicate their highly visual and creative nature. And for others, Posterous may provide a good place to easily publish documents and video.

Blogs – flexible enough for anything

What emerges from all the above is that blogs are just a publishing platform. There was a time when you had to customise WordPress, Typepad or Blogger to do what you wanted – from linkblogging and photoblogging to group blogs and aggregation. But those problems have since been solved by an increasing range of bespoke platforms.

Social bookmarking platforms and Twitter made it easier to linkblog; Tumblr made it easier to photoblog or aggregate RSS feeds. Posterous lowered the barrier to make group blogging as easy as sending an email. CoverItLive piggybacked on Twitter to aggregate live event coverage. And Facebook made bloggers of everyone without them realising.

A blog can now syndicate itself across multiple networks: Tumblr and Posterous make it easy to automatically cross-publish links and media to Twitter, YouTube and any other media-specific platform. RSS feeds can be pulled from Flickr, Delicious, YouTube or any of dozens of other services into a Facebook page or a WordPress widget.

What is important is not to be distracted by the technology, but focus on the people who will have to use it, and what they want to use it for.

To give a concrete example: I was once advising an organisation who wanted to publish their work online and help young people get their work out there. The young people used mobile phones (Blackberrys) and were on Facebook, but the organisation also wanted the content created by those young people to be seen by potential funders, in a professional context.

I advised them to:

  • Set up a moderated Posterous so that it would cross-publish to individuals’ Facebook pages (so there would be instant feedback for those users rather than it be published in an isolated space online that their friends had to go off and find);
  • Give the Posterous blog email address to the young people so they could use it to send in their work (making it easy to use on a device they were comfortable with);
  • Then to set up a separate ‘official’ WordPress site that pulled in the Posterous feed into a side-widget alongside the more professional, centrally placed, content (meeting the objectives of the organisation).

This sounds more technically complex than it is in practice, and the key thing is that it makes publishing as easy as possible: for the young users of the service, they only had to send images and comments to an email address. For members of the organisation they only had to write blog posts. Everything else, once set up, was automated. And free.

Many people hesitate before blogging, thinking that their effort has to be right first time. It doesn’t. Going through these blogs I counted around 35 that I’ve either created or been involved in. Many of those were retired when they ceased to be useful; some were transferred to new platforms. Some changed their names, some were deleted. Increasingly, they are intended from the start to have a limited shelf life. But every one has taught me something.

And those are just my experiences – how have you used blogs in different ways? And how has it changed?

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June 01 2010

08:13

Online Journalism Blog: Paul Bradshaw on journalism and enterprise, blogging and JEEcamp

Editor of the Online Journalism Blog and reader in online journalism at Birmingham City University Paul Bradshaw talks to Matt Wardman about the opportunities running a blog has given him and why he decided to set up JEEcamp – an ‘unconference’ focusing on journalism and enterprise.

Interesting insight into what makes a good event – and why he decided to end JEEcamp after three years.

Full post at this link…

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08:00

JEEcamp 2010: Interview with Paul Bradshaw of Online Journalism Blog. By Matt Wardman

q-logo-jeecampPaul Bradshaw has run a conference "Journalism, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship" for independent and mainstream journalists interested in "making a living from journalism in the era of free information".

In this interview, Paul explains to Matt Wardman what the aims and achievements of JEEcamp have been, and reflects on how his own blogging activities over 6 years has opened up opportunities for him personally.

May 22 2010

20:23

The last #jeecamp in pictures

JEEcamp, the online journalism enterprise and experimentation unconference, was held for the last time yesterday (Friday 21 May 2010) in Birmingham but went out with a bang with excellent and revealing speeches from Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of the Caledonian Mercury, and Simon Waldman, former director of digital strategy for the Guardian Media Group and now group product director at LOVEFiLM.

I have uploaded a few shots of the key speakers to flickr and created the slideshow below, which shows in order, JEEcamp organiser Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw), Simon Waldman (@Waldo), Karl Schneider (@karlschneider), Stewart Kirkpatrick (@calmerc), Mark Pack (@markpack), Siôn Simon (@sionsimon) and Matt Wardman (@mattwardman).

Expect other future great events from either Paul Bradshaw and/or his students in the future.

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May 21 2010

14:56

#JEEcamp: What does the election result mean for publishers and start-ups?

We had breakout groups at today’s JEECamp pre-lunch and I got too absorbed in my chosen session (media law & ethics) to tweet or blog but you can find a summary by @owmyfoothurts here, at this link.

The next session:

Panel: What does the election result mean for publishers and startups? Sion Simon (former Labour creative industries minister), Matt Wardman (Blogger, The Wardman Wire), Stewart Kirkpatrick (Founder, Caledonian Mercury), and Mark Pack (co-editor, Liberal Democrat Voice).

A few notes:

The session kicks off with a discussion on government data. Sion Simon says he can’t imagine why the new Lib-Con coalition would not proceed with open data plans. But, he says, it would be a new government getting the credit for the spadework a previous government had done.

Then over to blogger Mark Pack: he says there’s huge amount of information out there and it’s a necessity for lots of people outside traditional media to make use of that data. This, he says, will give a huge boost to hyperlocal and outside traditional media coverage. It will be painful for local authorities to be held to account (but it’s important).

Matt Wardman pays tribute to Tom Watson (not in the room) and Sion Simon for their role in the campaign for open data. But for him the big trend is the possible break down of the Westminster “political bubble” and the London “media bubble”, as independent outlets break stories.

How it will the coalition affect reportage?

Sion Simon says we’re in the honeymoon period of government at the moment (Tony Blair’s was ‘like living in a pink candyfloss cloud’ he says).  “Everybody loves it, it’s all great”. But, he adds, all the qualitative research that been done over the past few years shows that the public ask ‘why can’t they all get on with each other’. The public reaction to the coalition then, is positive.

The newspapers are motivated by, or reflect, the readers. Over time, it will give way to a negative dynamic: the tension between the fourth estate and the political classes.  Don’t expect the big society to save the coalition from the press, warns Simon.

Matt Wardman is hopeful for resources such as theyworkforyou.com, where you’ll be able to look up what ministers said 14 years ago. “I want to see that happen at a local level,” he says. Local bloggers need to pick up the sort of skills to do freedom of information requests. He wants to see the sort of skills that are used nationally and used more widely.

The Birmingham City students have liveblogged the session here.

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10:17

#JEEcamp: Simon Waldman – developing online businesses (beyond what Google would do)

Journalism.co.uk is at JEEcamp in Birmingham today. It’s the third such annual informal event for journalism experimentation and enterprise. But organiser Paul Bradshaw says it will be the last.

I’m trying a One Man and His Blog style live blog today, as long as the dongle holds up. You can also follow #jeecamp tweets here: http://bit.ly/aeb9BV.

First up, Simon Waldman the outgoing digital strategy and development director of Guardian Media Group. He’s off to Love Film as product director, and the session so far reflects that cross-sector flexibility.

He’s talking about what people like about the web: challenging authority (through Christmas number one campaigns for example) and stuff that’s free and cheap.

Each time technology comes out, our behaviour changes, he says. What has wifi changed, for example? Well, we can all sit round tweeting what he is saying. With wifi, you can watch TV and have the laptop on your lap (‘bellyvision’!).

Waldman says he thinks we’ve got another decade of “quite profound change”.

He says that  it’s not necessarily a Jeff Jarvis ‘what would Google do’ question, because Google would be doing it. The Guardian’s Sarah Hartley tweeted this great quote: ‘looking at what Google would do and attempting to copy it is like me looking at Rooney & attempting to play football like him’.

Waldman looked at IBM and says that if a company like that can turn its business around, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Companies need to transform their core business, he says: it’s about making sure your business as a whole is in good shape.

Innovation needs tight deadlines and speed. He’s not sure about the Economist’s Project Red Stripe for example. Entrepreneurs get on and do things, he says.

The kind of businesses editors and publishers think about are quite difficult to scale (at this point he says he’s not going to spill any beans about the Guardian – boo!).

There’s a load of challenges ahead – for at least the next decade and a half. Now is a fantastic time to be entrepreneurial, but think really carefully about how big it can be, says Waldman.

Find someone who can help you turn into a real business. “Do brilliant things,” he says.  Waldman can never stop being grateful that his career coincided with digital explosion, he says.

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09:21

#JEECamp: Follow live

Today we’re up in Birmingham for the JEECamp unconference. Follow the live blog below for tweets and comments from the conference.

JEEcamp is an opportunity for a range of people to get together to talk about how on earth journalists and publishers can make a living from journalism in the era of free information, what the challenges are, and what we’ve learned so far.

You’ll find details of the day at this link: http://jeecamp.pbwiki.com/. It has a flexible agenda, but the keynote will be given by Simon Waldman, digital director, Guardian Media Group.

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April 16 2010

11:00

Date for the diary: JEEcamp 2010 on May 21

jeecamp

Given that Roy Greenslade has beaten me to blogging about my own event, I thought I’d better go ahead and blog about it here. I’m talking about JEEcamp of course – a conference-cum-unconference about journalism experimentation and enterprise. Put another way, if you read this blog, the sort of stuff I talk about.

It’s on May 21st at The Bond in Birmingham. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • Keynote from Simon Waldman, Author, Creative Disruption, and Digital Director, Guardian Media Group. (When I started blogging this was one guy I always read – and he’s still ahead of the game.)
  • Panel: What does the election result mean for publishers and startups? Confirmed so far: Tom Loosemore (ex-Ofcom, -BBC, now-Channel 4), Talk About Local’s Will Perrin and outgoing Creative Industries minister Sion Simon.
  • Please nominate who you would like as the fourth panellist.
  • Closing keynote: Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of Scotland’s first online-only newspaper, Caledonian Mercury (@calmerc), which launched earlier this year.

More importantly, in between all of that are a whole bunch of fringe meetings, chats over coffee and group discussions. You decide what to talk about here. Because, really, that’s what we go to conferences for, isn’t it?

And in the spirit of the internet, there’s a low barrier to entry: tickets are only £30

For those who haven’t been before, there’s coverage of last year’s event here and here. For those who have, feel free to post a comment.

You really don’t need to use any more brainpower on this. Book a ticket by emailing Kelly.ONeil@BCU.ac.uk (invoices available!) and sign up on the Facebook page or wiki.

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